Creative Space Beirut: Where only talent matters
Beirut - Young men and women concentrating on manipulating scissors cutting fabric or drawing patterns on parchment paper can hardly believe that they are achieving a dream that was so far-fetched a short while ago.
Najah Ghrayeb is among nine students seeking to fulfil their aspirations at Creative Space Beirut (CSB), a free fashion design school in Lebanon.
“Since I was a child I dreamed about fashion design but I was resigned that it was not possible for me to do fashion studies because the tuition is exorbitant. So I studied biochemistry at the Lebanese University instead, but my heart was always with fashion design,” said Ghrayeb, 22, who joined the 3-year programme last October.
Ghrayeb’s talents and those of her classmates are being fostered thanks to the initiative of Sarah Hermez, a Lebanese-American fashion designer and co-founder of CSB, who aims to empower Lebanon’s underprivileged youth through fashion.
“At CSB, we believe in free education and the importance of fostering talent,” Hermez said. “We look for individuals from across Lebanon who have the passion and the talent but could not for some reason or another pursue fashion design studies.
“There are so many talented people and they deserve a chance. This is their only chance to become fashion designers, and they are so hungry for it, really dedicating all their time and energy.”
CSB, founded in 2011 by Hermez and Caroline Simonelli, her professor at New York’s Parsons School of Design, combined Hermez’s passions for creativity and humanitarian work.
“I always felt that it was very unfair that just because I come from a more privileged background I was allowed the opportunity to go to New York and pursue my passion while there are so many people who are more talented than me and do not get that chance and they end up working in supermarkets or doing other things,” Hermez said.
CSB graduated its first four students in December after three years of intensive work that culminated with the school’s first fashion show featuring the students’ collections.
“One of our graduates was accepted in a university in Milan through the portfolio she built here and found a sponsor. Another got accepted to Starch, which is a (local) platform that launches young designers’ brands through their boutiques,” Hermez said.
Although the school is not accredited and its diploma not recognised officially, students follow a comprehensive and diverse curriculum taught by mostly volunteer instructors, including Simonelli, from leading schools.
“We collaborate with different designers and teach different courses internationally and locally,” Hermez said. “At the end of the day the paper doesn’t mean much. What is really important is the portfolio they build and the connections and networking they make while they are here.”
Hermez hopes to expand the project, attracting sponsorships and developing a reputation as a design school and label. She said she also hoped the programme could generate revenues by selling the students’ designs, with a percentage going to the student designers.
“We have developed an in-house brand — CSB Ready to Wear — and hope to start selling in different places in Lebanon and even around the world. We also started a brand called Second Street. Our goal is to sustain the fashion programme,” she said.
CSB students come from different backgrounds and nationalities and include Palestinian and Syrian refugees.
“Creativity and talent is the criteria here,” said fashion design teacher Misak Hadjabekian, who has been teaching at CSB since it opened in 2011.
“They (students) are amazing kids, who are here to learn and to prove themselves. It is not because they can afford it but because they have the talent and the passion for it,” added Hadjabekian, who also teaches at the Lebanese American University’s fashion design school set up in collaboration with renowned Lebanese designer Elie Saab.
For Ahmad Amer, who will be graduating at the end of the year, being accepted at CSB was a turning point. He turned his back on interior architecture studies he was following at the Lebanese University to pursue his passion. “Being here was a starting point for what I’ve always wanted since I was a kid. I love to design clothes, especially evening ready-to-wear dresses,” said Amer as he drew dress forms.
Ghrayeb said she was grateful for the opportunity that CSB gave her to make “a dream comes true”.
“Here, I am part of something that is very noble,” she said. “It is all for free, it is so selfless, and I hope that if, God willing, I can achieve something I want to give back.”
CSB’s concept reflects the convictions and beliefs of its founders.
“We believe in equal opportunity,” Hermez said. “That’s why we search for talents no matter what background they come from.”